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Skincare Ingredients to Avoid During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an amazing time. You’re excited to meet that new little person you already know you’re going to love to bits! But with pregnancy often comes plenty of not so nice things. Morning sickness (AKA all bloody day long sickness), swollen ankles, lack of sleep…All the good stuff! Aaaaand it can wreak havoc on our skin. Yes, some people get that gorgeous pregnancy glow, but that doesn’t happen for everyone - and, instead, can result in acne and dark patches. But there are some key skincare ingredients you should avoid during pregnancy, regardless of what condition your skin is in. Read on to find out more.

Common skin issues during pregnancy

What happens to our skin during pregnancy? When we’re pregnant, our hormones, essentially, have a field day and can bring great skin days and really not so great days… weeks and even months - but it doesn’t last.

The pregnancy glow that everyone bangs on about is a mixture of hormones and an increase in blood volume, which gives a gorgeous, radiant appearance. But, on the flip side, skin can also go through a lot of not so nice changes during pregnancy, also thanks to hormonal changes. These include acne and melasma, which I’ll give you the glow-down on…

Pregnancy acne (AKA hormonal acne)

As with our teenage years, hormonal changes in our body can lead to acne. This is because of an increase in androgens, which exacerbates oil production, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. It might be the case that you already had acne but that it’s worsening during pregnancy - or that you’ve always had clear skin before now and have just got acne for the first time. There’s no hard and fast rule and it can just feel really unfair.


Often referred to as the mask of pregnancy, melasma (or chloasma) - a form of hyperpigmentation - presents as dark patches on the face, caused by increased levels of melanin. It’s believed to be down to a rise in oestrogen and progesterone, and it affects quite a lot of women during the gestation period, only for their skin to return to normal afterwards. One thing that can make it worse is sun exposure, so limiting your time in it and staying sun safe is key. Melasma’s not limited to pregnancy, though - and it’s not even limited to just women; men can get it too.

What skincare ingredients to avoid in pregnancy

While you might be noticing a difference in your skin - particularly when it comes to conditions like acne and melasma - it’s really important to know what skincare products are safe and which aren’t. That’s because there are some ingredients that can, when absorbed into the skin, cause damage to unborn babies and might actually cause more damage to your skin during pregnancy. So, what are the skincare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy? Let’s take a look.


While we all love retinol for helping minimise signs of ageing and helping tackle acne, steering clear of vitamin A derivatives like retinols and retinoids is a must during pregnancy. This is because research has shown that, in high doses, it can cause birth defects.

What can you use instead of retinol during pregnancy? A safe swap is niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3), which is great for minimising the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and also at fighting acne AND pigmentation and inflammation that go hand in hand with acne. The fact that it’s so hydrating and brightening makes skin look more glowy. Perfect!

Another great choice, if you’re looking to tackle lines and wrinkles, is hyaluronic acid, which is amazing at hydrating the skin. Not only does it hydrate, but it also plumps, minimises the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and even has antioxidant properties, meaning it can fight off free radicals, i.e. pollution.


Hydroquinone is a brightening ingredient and is used topically in skincare for treating melasma. However, it’s not considered safe for use during pregnancy, so definitely one to avoid. If you’re looking for an alternative that’s bun-in-the-oven-friendly, niacinamide, once again, is a great option, as is vitamin C!

Salicylic acid (BHA)

Normally, I’d be harping on about how awesome BHA salicylic acid is, as it exfoliates skin at a deeper level than an AHA (think glycolic acid or lactic acid), and is great at combating acne, thanks to its ability to clear clogged pores and breakouts. BUT it seems to be one of those ingredients that’s still debated when it comes to use in pregnancy. Some believe low percentage skincare use is fine, while others recommend not using it at all. Obviously, if you want to play it completely safe, avoiding it altogether is your best bet. But speaking to a skincare expert (i.e. a dermatologist or aesthetic practitioner who specialises in skincare and skin issues) is a good idea, as they’ll be able to assess your individual needs and weigh up your options, safely.

Chemical sunscreen

Not just for sunny days - every day is an SPF day. But it’s important to consider the type of sunscreen you’re using if you’re pregnant. For example, chemical sunscreen can irritate hormonal skin and result in breakouts. So, it’s best to select a mineral based sunscreen, containing ingredients liketitanium dioxide or zinc oxide,instead. But, again, if you’re not sure where to start, speak to a skin pro!

What skincare products are safe during pregnancy

Ok, so there are a few ingredients to avoid in pregnancy, but it’s not all bad. There are plenty of skincare ingredients that are safe and effective! Here are just a few examples:

  • Vitamin C - brightens, boosts collagen and elastin production, evens skin tone and hyperpigmentation, reduces inflammation, improves skin texture, minimises fine lines and wrinkles, acts as a powerful antioxidant.
  • Niacinamide - minimises the appearance of pores, improves uneven skin tone, acts as an anti-ageing ingredient, fights acne, pigmentation and inflammation.
  • Azelaic acid - clears pores, boosts cell turnover, kills bacteria, works as an antioxidant.
  • Glycolic acid - exfoliates skin, increases skin hydration, works well on dry, ageing and sundamaged skin.
  • Lactic acid - increases cell turnover, sloughs off dead skin cells, firms skin.
  • Peptides - boost collagen production, help clear breakouts, improve skin barrier.

So, if any of the skincare issues above should strike during your pregnancy, you should now be armed with the knowledge of what to use and what to avoid. However, as I mentioned earlier, the best thing you can do is to speak to a skincare expert who will be able to point you in the right direction and take an individualised approach to your skin needs.

Want a bit of help when it comes to acne, melasma or any other skin issues? Find a medically qualified practitioner in your area here on Glowday.

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